Mar 4, 2010
Sharon Olds' name has come up before here, and she is one of the best known living poets in the U.S.
Before we leave racial issues for awhile, let's have a look at "On the Subway," which appeared in her book The Gold Cell.
Click here. poetrymagazines.org.uk - On The Subway
For now, I'll ask only three questions:
1. I've had students who said the poem itself--meaning Olds, not just her speaker--is racist. What do you think?
2. As for the speaker, is she racist, or just unusually honest about her preconceptions?
3. Can somebody explain Sharon Olds' line breaks? I've seen other poets handle lineation in a roughly similar way, but I do believe Olds is the champ at ending lines with articles, prepositions, and other relatively minor words in order to befuddle readers named Fiddlehead and Banjo.
A student once said Olds is putting the important words at the beginnings of new lines, rather than letting them sit at the ends of the old lines, and I was surprised at how much sense that made. I've also wondered if she's going for a bit of suspense by making us wait for the new line before we hear the next important word, usually a noun or verb.
In terms of our conversations here a few months ago about poetry versus prosaic conversation, I think Sharon Olds walks that line more successfully than most others who try it. "On the Subway" never leaves me doubting that it's a poem and deserves to be--in fact, needs to be--broken into lines, in spite of the fact that it's a somewhat narrative work.
poetrymagazines.org.uk - On The Subway